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The gathering storm
Here comes Hurricane Ahmadinejad


October 11, 2005

Mahmood Ahmadinejad stunned the diplomatic world on September 17 with his bellicose and vitriolic speech at the United Nations General Assembly. This portends a serious confrontation between the fundamentalist regime and the Bush administration.

The diplomatic world was awaiting Ahmadinejad's proposals to resolve the dispute over the regime's nuclear program, an 18-year old clandestine program that was exposed in 2002. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN agency responsible for monitoring compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has been investigating possible violations by the regime.

IAEA's 35-member Board of Governors meeting in Vienna the week following Ahmadinejad's speech adopted a harsh resolution on September 24. The resolution threatened to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions if the fundamentalist regime failed to establish confidence that its nuclear program is peaceful. The Board will meet again in November.

Ahmadinejad's speech came as a surprise to many non-Iranian observers. For those familiar with factional politics in Iran, there were few surprises. There are three major factions among fundamentalist oligarchy ruling Iran: reformists, expedients, and hard-liners. All factions wish to prolong fundamentalist rule but disagree on the policies which would best serve that end.

Led by Hojatolislam Mohammad Khatami, the reformist faction had proposed to improve relations with the United States, suspend uranium enrichment indefinitely, and reduce repression at home.[1] These policies were opposed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamanehi, the most powerful person in the oligarchy. Nicknamed Ayatollah Gorbachev, events proved Khatami to be Iran's Khrushchev. [2]

Led by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the expedient faction proposes what is called the Chinese model: detente with U.S., entente with EU, increase political repression, and laxer enforcement of social restrictions such as those on music and Islamic dress for women.

Led by Khamanehi, the hard-line faction proposes to increase political repression, increase social restrictions, and increase confrontation with the United States. Hard-liners believe that the United States is on the verge of collapse similar to what occurred to the former Soviet Union.

In its October 20, 2001 issue the Keyhan daily wrote: "Today is the end of history for the failed liberal democracy. The train of progress has collided against the fortress of capitalism. In the midst of the ruined remains of democracy we will be able to lead mankind towards salvation and security, with the light of guidance which Imam Hussein, peace be upon him, has placed in our hands for shedding light of the bewildered humanity at the end of history."[3]

Another hard-line conservative paper, Jomhuri Islami opined that "The U.S. is imploding, because of its growing budget deficits and the fact that it is no longer on the cutting edge of science, knowledge, democracy, and freedom."[4] Another conservative hard-line paper, Resalat, editorialized that "no philosopher or sociologist has any doubt about the fall of the West."[5] In another article entitled "On the Brink of Collapse," a Resalat writer argues that America is in the brink of disintegration because of its lack of morality.[6]

Hard-liners believe that the U.S. is in an unusually weak position and thus unable to impose its will on them. They believe that American armed forces are overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and in a standoff with North Korea. For the hard-liners, these and the unusually tight global oil market render UN Security Council sanctions, American surgical strikes on nuclear facilities, or an all-out invasion highly unlikely.

Ahmadinejad has named a cabinet packed with members of the most extreme wing of the hard-line faction known as "Young Conservatives." Like himself, they are in their 40s and 50s and are true-believers who risked life and limb in the 1980s in the war against Iraq as well as in the violent struggle against domestic opposition. They rose to positions of power not because of connection to clerics but because of their services in the intelligence and military agencies, a service marked by extreme violence and brutality.

For example, Mustafa PourMohammadi, the new Minister of Interior, was Deputy Minister of Intelligence for Foreign Operations in the early 1990s, under whose stewardship, several dozen Iranian opposition activists were assassinated in Western Europe. Gen. Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr is the new Deputy Chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, the body responsible for formulating foreign, military, and domestic security policies. Zolghadr, is the second highest ranked official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In February 2002, he advocated targeting oil fields in neighboring countries if U.S. attacked Iran.[7]

Another violent extremist member of the oligarchy, Gen. Ghalibaf has become mayor of Tehran. Gen. Ghalibaf was one of the high ranking IRGC commanders who signed a letter to Khatami threatening him that if he did not restore order, they would take matters into their own hands during the July 1999 pro-democracy rallies and marches. Ahmadinejad, PourMohammadi and Zolghadr served together in the intelligence section of the IRGC.

Both Khamanehi and Ahmadinejad have repeatedly and explicitly stated that Iran has the right to develop a nuclear program and that this right is non-negotiable. They insist that the nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, but few believe it.

There are many reasons why the world mistrusts the regime. First, the regime leaders have a long proven history of lying. For example, it is well-known that the regime has assassinated numerous Iranians abroad while IRI officials lie and publically deny the fact.

Second, many leaders of the regime have made contradictory statements. For example, on the one hand they claim that IRI's nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes and on the other hand they state that Iran needs nuclear weapons to counter threats to it. For instance, Mustafa Tajzadeh (one of the top leaders of the reformist wing of the oligarchy) has said that "Israel says, if I don't have it [nuclear capability], I don't have security, and we say, as long as Israel has it, we don't have security."[8]

Third, the regime has engaged in mass killings, horrendous torture, and even assassinations and murders of non-violent political and literary figures (e.g., Parvaneh Eskandari-Forouhar, Jaafar Pouyandeh, Mohammad Mokhtari, Piroz Davani, Zahra Kazemi).

Fourth, the ideology of the regime is a combination of martyrdom and violent expansionism.

Fifth, the main slogans of the regime are the genocidal slogans of "Death to American," and "Death to Israel."

Sixth, the regime has funded and continues to fund terrorist organizations such as Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Therefore, for Khamanehi and Ahmadinejad to have access to nuclear technology is as disconcerting to much of the world as Osama bin Laden and Mohammad Atta to have such access. One may not worry if Perviz Mosharaf has nuclear weapons, but one should be most worried if the likes of bin Laden, Atta, Khamanehi, or Ahmadinejad possess such weapons.

Ahmadinejad and Khamanehi have declared that nuclear weapons are against the religion of Islam.[9] In his UN speech, however, Ahmadinejad threatened that "we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue" if U.S. provoked Iran. Apparently Ahmadinejad and his speech writers did not grasp the logical inconsistency of his threat with the position that nuclear weapons are against the religion of Islam.

The fundamentalist regime's propaganda machine has attempted to portray its nuclear ambition as a nationalist issue similar to the nationalization of oil, and to compare Ahmadinejad's speech at the UN to that of Dr. Mossadegh's speech there. This has provoked a strong response by Mossadegh's National Front who strongly objected to any comparison between Ahmadinejad (regarded as the most reactionary, dictatorial and bellicose leader in recent memory) and Dr. Mossadegh (regarded as the most liberal, democratic, and peaceful leader in recent history).[10]

The pro-democracy nationalist forces have strongly criticized and condemned any comparison between the fundamentalist regime's putative covert nuclear weapons program with the struggle to gain Iran's economic and political independence from colonial control under the leadership of Dr. Mossadegh.[11] The pro-democracy opposition regards the regime's propaganda to be an attempt to deceive the Iranian people by creating unnecessary and dangerous crisis with the world in order to divert and undermine the struggle of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy.[12]

It is clear that any country has the right to develop civilian nuclear technology. Moreover, one may legitimately argue that Iran needs to develop nuclear weapons to protect its national interests because Iran is located in a dangerous and volatile region. The problem is the nature of the fundamentalist regime, which many legitimately regard as extremist, fanatic, genocidal, and terrorist.

It is like accepting that every citizen has the right to own a gun, but that we could wisely deprive someone of this right if he has committed major crimes. A criminal possessing a gun poses such a serious danger that a community may wish to deprive him from possessing a gun. If the fundamentalist regime were replaced with a normal regime (e.g., a secular and democratic republic, especially one that has a record of leaders who are decent and who respect human rights), then no one would worry about this government possessing nuclear weapons as deterrence.

Early in August, Khamanehi rejected economic and political incentives offered by EU-3 (Britain, France, Germany), and uranium conversion was resumed. President Bush then explicitly re-stated his earlier position that all options, including military strikes, are on the table in order to prevent the completion of the nuclear program. If we take the words of President Bush and Iran's fundamentalist rulers seriously, then, military confrontation is a strong possibility.

The Bush administration may be able to avoid military confrontation, or at least to postpone it, if it can convince the Security Council to impose sanctions. Such sanctions may undermine the fundamentalist regime's ability to control the people, thus enabling Iranians themselves to overthrow the regime. However, Security Council sanctions seem unlikely as Russia and China are likely to veto them. The hard-liners in Iranˆlike the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraqˆunderestimate American military might and political will, and overestimate their own. There is a gathering storm that would make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem like minor tornadoes.

[1] AFX news: IRI's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Javad Zarif was "involved in closed-door talks with the United States in 2001 on the formation of a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan, followed by secret contacts prior to the US invasion of Iraq."

[2] I owe this sentence to a friend who wishes to be acknowledged as "J."

[3] Cited in Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, "The Portrayal of the U.S. in the Iranian Media Since 9/11," pp. 4-5, paper presented at U.S.-Iran Relations Conference at the University of Utah, September 9-10, 2005.

[4] Jomhuri Islami, 1384/5/20, cited in Ayatollahi Tabaar, ibid.

[5] Mohammad Kazem Anbarlouie, "The Capital Crime of Western Civilization," Resalat, July 30, 2005, p. 2, cited in Ayatollahi Tabaar, ibid.

[6] Pejman Karimi, "On the Brink of Collapse," Resalat, August 22, 2005, cited in Ayatollahi Tabaar, ibid.

[7] //

[8] Karl Vick, "Iranians Assert Right to Nuclear Weapons: Issues Unites Conservatives, Reformers," Washington Post, March 11, 2003, p. A16 cited in John Miglietta, "From Ally to Adversary: A Comprehensive Analysis of American-Iranian Relations, 1975-2005," paper presented at U.S.-Iran Relations Conference at the University of Utah, September 9-10, 2005.

[9] For an excellent analysis see Khodayar Afam, "ŒHaram Sharii' Shemordan Bomb Atomi ŒKolah-e Sharii' Ast,", September 28, 2005. //

[10] See Dr. Parviz Davarpanah, "Mossadegh Koja va Sheikh Koja".

[11] Iran National Front-Abroad (U.S. Branch): Also see editorial of INF in "Gorg Hokumat Islami dar Lebaas-e Mishe Melli" [The Islamic Regime Wolf in Nationalist Sheep Clothing] in Neda Jebhe Melli Iran, #21 (October 2005): // Also see the views of Mossadegh's grandson, Dr. Matin-Daftari, who heads the National Democratic Front, a democratic socialist organization.

[12] In addition to the Iran National Front (Jebhe Melli Iran) also see the statements of the National Movement of the Iranian Resistance, and the republicans. Also see Ramin Kamran, "Ham Atom Ham Azadi,", October 3, 2005.

Masoud Kazemzadeh is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He is the author of Islamic Fundamentalism, Feminism, and Gender Inequality in Iran Under Khomeini (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002), and The Bush Doctrine and Iran: Alternative Scenarios and Consequences (forthcoming).

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